In a fascinating reflection on the Obama Presidency, Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic just published a series of interviews with the current President, who has less than a month left in his term of office. The President was extremely candid, especially on the topic of race, an issue which they delved deep into. Here are some excerpts from their conversation:
On obstructionism from the GOP, and whether it was a calculated strategy:
If Republicans didn’t cooperate, and there was not a portrait of bipartisan cooperation and a functional federal government, then the party in power would pay the price and they could win back the Senate and/or the House. That wasn’t an inaccurate political calculation.
On making compromises:
One of the things you learn as president is, as powerful as this office is, you have limited bandwidth. And the time goes by really quickly and you’re constantly making choices, and there are pressures on you from all different directions—pressures on your attention, not just pressures from different constituencies. And so you have to be pretty focused about where can you have the biggest, quickest impact. And I always tell my staff, “Better is good.” I’ll take better every time, because better is hard. Better may not be as good as the best, but better is surprisingly hard to obtain. And better is actually harder than worse.
On liberal backlash to his presidency:
I think that where I’ve gotten frustrated during the course of my presidency has never been because I was getting pushed too hard by activists to see the justness of a cause or the essence of an issue.I think where I got frustrated at times was the belief that the president can do anything if he just decides he wants to do it. And that sort of lack of awareness on the part of an activist about the constraints of our political system and the constraints on this office, I think, sometimes would leave me to mutter under my breath. Very rarely did I lose it publicly. Usually I’d just smile.
On Criticism of his Presidency:
I’m not saying I’m impervious to criticism—but one of the things that you come pretty early on to understand in this job, and you start figuring out even during the course of the campaign, is that there’s Barack Obama the person and there’s Barack Obama the symbol, or the office holder, or what people are seeing on television, or just a representative of power. And so when people criticize or respond negatively to me, usually they’re responding to this character that they’re seeing on TV called Barack Obama, or to the office of the presidency and the White House and what that represents.
And so you don’t take it personally. You understand that if people are angry that somehow the government is failing, then they are going to look to the guy who represents government. And that applies, by the way, even to some of the folks who are now Trump supporters. They’re responding to a fictional character named Barack Obama who they see on Fox News or who they hear about through Rush Limbaugh.
On his sense of optimism moving forward:
To be optimistic about the long-term trends of the United States doesn’t mean that everything is going to go in a smooth, direct, straight line, it goes forward sometimes, sometimes it goes back, sometimes it goes sideways, sometimes it zigs and zags.
The article also touches on the seedy underbelly of the Tea Party insurgency, the racist backlash against the first black president in US history. Now no longer an insurgency, but the mainstream of the party, the sentiments of the movement will now be at the front and center in the coming attack on Obama’s legacy. David Axelrod, former chief strategist to the President, summed it up perfectly:
They rode the tiger. And now the tiger is eating them…
This is a great read, and Obama is forthright in a way that may not have been possible until now. Here are both articles below via The Atlantic: